Scott Hanselman

Tragedies of the Remote Worker: "Looks like you're the only one on the call"

March 16, '15 Comments [70] Posted in Remote Work
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You're the only one on the callI'm writing this as I sit alone in a remote meeting room. As a remote worker, this is just one of the tiny, daily paper cuts. To be clear, I like being remote and I wouldn't change it, but some days Being a Remote Worker Sucks.

This is a rant, but if you were remote you'd understand.

You're the only one on the call.

It was nice of them put a link to join the meeting into the invitation, except they never joined the meeting. They've changed their IM status to Do Not Disturb and aren't answering their phones. You're all alone in a virtual room and are now late for a meeting you were originally early for.

When's the next time you're up?

Whenever you are on-site, folks always say "when are you up next?" Seriously. Like I'm just on vacation the other 6 weeks I'm not at the mother ship.

If only there were a global network with cameras and audio that would allow us to have a conversation while I'm away? But, alas, there isn't, so I'll see you again in 6 to 8 weeks.

I'm remote but that doesn't mean I'm not available EVERY WORK DAY.

Fifteen Minutes of "Can you hear me?"

Please. Unmute your damn phone. http://howtounmute.com. Learning how to use your basic VOIP camera and audio is a sign of respect for your remote workers.

You have a Webcam, use it.

You can see each other, but I can't see you. I don't care that you "don't like to use your webcam." We are having a business meeting, turn it on so the remote works can get one of their 5 senses back. Seeing your face is the whole point. It really helps. Bonus points if you adjust your webcam when it's time to see the whiteboard.

Have Empathy - Put yourself in the remote person's shoes

When I came to work here I sent five managers gift-wrapped web cams with a note on how to use them. During my next office visit I found 4 of them opened and shoved off to the side of their desks. If I had a gluten allergy I think you'd be more accommodating. But I don't, I'm a remote worker.

Remote iPad on a Stick - Double Robotics

I'm remote, please add call link to the meeting invite

Thanks for scheduling that meeting. Awesome that you got a room and everything. But I'm going to email you right back and remind you to add a call bridge/goto meeting/lync invite/google hangout. I just need access.

Move closer to the mic

You're in your office talking to me remotely, but not only will you not turn on your camera but you're talking on a speaker phone with your back to me as you spin in your desk chair.

Did the meeting end? Guys? Any one there?

It's so sad when I'm left on the table and you've all left the room. I'm just trapped in the Klingon Phone and you've got feet.

Don't fade away. When someone is remote it's so important to check in as you're closing the meeting.

The Klingon PhoneYour Inability to Deal with Me Remotely

Everyone has some special need. Mine is I'm remote. Your inability to be even slightly flexible to that fact causes me problems literally daily. Remote workers go out of their way to be available.

I'm on Lync, Skype, Slack, Twitter, and my cell phone is published in the company directory.

And you just literally said with a straight face, "I couldn't get ahold of you." O_O

Hearing an Important Conversation...as they hang up

This happens more often than you'd think. The meeting is over and they are hanging up. You can see their hand dropping to hit "End Call" and then someone starts mentioning something TOTALLY IMPORTANT and....dial tone.

Why don't you move up here?

Wow! I never thought of that. After 7 years of working remotely for a dozen reasons, you finally asked the right question! Why don't I just move up there?

Because. Reasons.

What tiny indignities do you deal with as a remote worker? Sound off in the comments.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Monday, 16 March 2015 21:37:01 UTC
I am not a remote worker, but I do think there's a stigma that remote workers just spend their days at home (or at the beach) and not working.

I'm sure your team works very well with you and knows how you work. I'm sure your manager understands and appreciates what you do.

It's the other guys, that manager from the other team, a new team member, that has never worked with a remote worker. Perhaps someone like me. And here's where I think the discussion from your angle is important. What we don't understand, we naturally fear and then reject.

A few years ago I asked to work from home while we waited for the birth of our child. I figure I can help out with some chores and be around. Getting the permission from boss isn't hard. And I turned to your tips on keeping Lync/Skype open all the time so they can see when I'm not here (BRB helping wife) which was super helpful for 'presence' in the office. But ultimately, I couldn't make it work - I get distracted, a lot. Then I can't get back in the zone. Older kid returns home and I'm distracted again. I feel I'm at home, but should not relax and think that it's OK to relax. After falling behind on work I've promised clients, I ended up just wrapping up the sprint and ask to take the remaining time off.

There was a stronger push for remote workers a while back, with employees doing long travels and the availability of broadband - but the employees that took this up don't try to make it work. Perhaps technology wasn't ready (VPN / VOIP down, can't find someone for meeting). Eventually a few companies rolled back their experiment with remote workers and managers told everyone to come to office.
John Liu
Monday, 16 March 2015 21:56:11 UTC
REMOTE FOR LIFE!!! PREACH IT, SIR!!! True talent does not waste its time mired in hallway banter and silly water-cooler drivel. It is about being FOCUSED, CONCENTRATED, and IN THE ZONE. Something that is SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE in a clown town cubicle farm. I am glad and happy to see Remote starting to become more commonplace, available, and accepted -- as careers.stackoverflow.com clearly shows!

Keep up the GOOD fight... and GREAT post!
MichaelD!
Monday, 16 March 2015 21:56:12 UTC
I do a lot of remote work with people who also do remote work, and I'd like to add one tangential but serious pet peeve - USE HEADPHONES OR ECHO REDUCTION. It's extremely disconcerting and distracting to hear what someone is trying to say echoed back two seconds later. I've sometimes gotten to the point where I just don't bother saying anything in some meetings because just like the last ten times I tried, two seconds after I start I'll completely and unnecessarily lose my train of thought as my own voice interrupts me.
Ian Davey
Monday, 16 March 2015 22:00:26 UTC
Scott, I love your work but you have to admit that working with someone face-to-face is much more optimal and well...human. Please don't blame your co-workers for enjoying your company in person ;)
Monday, 16 March 2015 22:07:37 UTC
Mindfulness in the workplace. It's an amazing thing. Because the majority of companies still exist with headquarters, or where the majority of employees come into the office on a regular basis, there's no real understanding of what it means to connect remotely. I think that if you have a distributed team, or a mixture of remote employees, you need to institute habits of communication as though all your employees were remote. There's a lot of advantages to pursuing better communication hygiene in the workplace (On Distributed Teams and Not Being Remote - by @beerops)

If there's one thing I'd add to the list, it's this:
If you had a 5 minute conversation to align on something in the hallway,
and you have remote employees involved in that something, you're still not aligned,
because they're not in your hallway

I think we should always be mindful in the way we interact with others.
Davin Taddeo
Monday, 16 March 2015 22:09:58 UTC
There's one difference between a Gluten allergy or a disability and a remote worker. Remote working is a choice (I know, you might argue that reasons take it out of your control... but ultimately it's still a choice). Remote Working is not a protected status with legal requirements that must be met to adapt to remote conditions.

I enjoy working from home as much as anyone, and I've done long stretches remotely. But I can't really expect others to radically change their way of working to adapt to my choice of working remotely. I really have to be the one to bend and fit into their model as best as possible.

Unless you happen to be Scott Hanselman and can bend others to your will ;)
Erik
Monday, 16 March 2015 22:10:24 UTC
Just think, if I weren't at a conference, this post may never have been published. :)

As a former remote worker, I always make sure to join the call and leave it on until people leave the room. We can't always capture the exodus communications, though. In my group, we have some people in the UK and their big complaint is that they don't always know who's talking in a big meeting because there are no webcams. I helped out once by typing in the speakers' names, so at least the remote folks had a shot at recognizing the voices next time.
Robert Standefer
Monday, 16 March 2015 22:21:40 UTC
I only work at home 1-2 days a week right now because of:

"It is about being FOCUSED, CONCENTRATED, and IN THE ZONE. Something that is SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE in a clown town cubicle farm." - Amen, Hallelujah! Preach it, brother!

When I'm at home I get 1.5 times as much work done in the same amount of time. Consistently. You'd think they'd figure it out and move me out of the stupid open plan desks (I WISH we had cubicles still!), but nope! Apparently they like wasting all their money.

I haven't had the problems you've had, but then again I'm in usually in the office whenever we have a meeting and I work at home when I need to "be in the code" all day. When I do get online remotely, everyone is pretty good about it but I work with guys 1000 miles away every day, so we're all used to it anyway.

I ALWAYS answer my phone or any communication when working at home (and e-mails within 2 hours), so people know that I haven't dropped off the face of the earth. That helps a lot with the trust issues of people letting you work at home at all.
PRMan
Monday, 16 March 2015 22:24:35 UTC
I know how strongly you feel about remote working and how good the tools are, but you must be able to see how your web cam gifts must have came across?

I don't work with full time, home based remote workers, but have plenty of multi-site conference calls, and truth be told I find them very difficult. Always full of pauses and people talking over one another, followed by them both stopping to let the other talk.

You just don't get the speed of reaction from visual cues that you get in-person. Sure people still talk over one another but the back off, keep going, back and forth is way faster.

Even with the best technology tools available, in person meetings are still so much better.

I think a lot of people think like that, and add in a mixture of distrust, jealousy and laziness I can see why you have to suffer the bad behaviour described.







Jamie
Monday, 16 March 2015 22:35:40 UTC
i agree on everything but webcams. I don't need to see who is speaking if the conference says "Person X is talking." I'm usually doing laundry or putting away dishes or just walking around for exercise when I'm not active on a call, a web cam unnecessarily ties me to my desk. Ironic to tie remote workers their desk don't you think?
Monday, 16 March 2015 22:39:26 UTC
I work in a satellite office. My team, including my manager, is...a long ways from here. So I feel like I'm a remote employee. As such, you've made me realize I should be thankful. I've not had to deal with most of these headaches very often, even though I can't remember the last time I had a meeting in person.

I think it helps a lot that I work for a company with many offices and it is not at all unusual for teams to be distributed across two or more offices. Also, my manager has made a concerted effort to make this remote working situation work. I guess I should make a point to thank him for that.
Daniel Pratt
Monday, 16 March 2015 23:28:24 UTC
I spent two years working remotely and I enjoyed most of it - I was in one of many satellite offices so I coordinated development between my team and the other offices. I think my biggest difficulty was in trying to keep my team and others from jumping to conclusions because a poorly worded email. It is so easy to assume the worst when all you have to go off of is 10-20 words, because there aren't any visual cues or even tone of voice. I just wanted to yell at them to "PICK UP THE PHONE AND CALL... OR START A HANGOUT... JUST SOMETHING!" I mentioned something you've said before in terms of escalating the conversation. It can be difficult to know when to do that sometimes, though.

I probably sounded like a broken record by saying "remote communication is hard" so many times.
Monday, 16 March 2015 23:35:42 UTC
I work remotely. Where I work cams are not yet a daily possibility. I love being remote and I feel so guilty at times that others don't work 100% remote like me.

We are setup for remote workers, there is always a bridge. When the scrum Master runs the meeting he always pays attention to the people on the phone, but at times, I've been hung up on or left waiting on calls.

I just roll with the punches though, because working from home is the best.
Erico
Monday, 16 March 2015 23:48:08 UTC
While we are on the subject... When I plug in a headset, how come my computer is smart enough to switch audio output to the headphones, but continues to use computer’s main microphone, picking up ventilation, jets, and construction noises instead of using the headset microphone that is an inch away from my mouth. LOL
Monday, 16 March 2015 23:53:07 UTC
Mr Hanselman, you have put my thoughts into words perfectly. I cannot get over how ignorant some people can be. I understand, some people are old school, but even the ones who pretend like they are all cool and hip and new-age end up fighting it after a while. I'm not sure if it's due to pressure from the bosses or what.

When I do show up at the office I'm bombarded with questions and can't get one second of real productive work done. I've explained hundreds of times that there is absolutely no reason they can't get in touch with me when I'm not at the office. I actually had one coworker say that it's just too much of a hassle - we are a west coast company with all of our customers on the east coast and he's incapable of picking up a god damn phone, writing an email (my pref), or using Lync??? How does he communicate with our customers?

Despite being more comfortable at my home, I feel more pressure to show my productivity and end up working through the night sometimes to make sure all my work gets done. When I was at the office, I would let tasks slip and nobody would care, but if I do it while not at the office I feel like people think I'm at home with a monocle and top-hat while binge drinking champagne and having a slip-and-slide bbq/pool party with a gang of expensive hookers (whatever the most anti-work thing you can think of is).

I've joked that I can be just as unproductive at the office as I am at home.
Adam P
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 01:24:58 UTC
Pssst. You can tell me. Do you work remotely because Mr Edwards is on campus? :)
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 01:52:15 UTC
As for those who want to "align in the hallway" ... if you aligned *online* you would have it recorded and saved as a stored artifact for posterity/history/workflow/productivity purposes.

Hm. :) Just a thought.

Along those lines, all I gotta say to Mr. Hanselman is: HoloLens. If I were you, I would be building a skunk works DIVISION around this product to (among other things) help developers/team members better excel at their craft and improve coordination around these efforts -- no matter where they are on the globe. I myself can think of no less than FIVE HoloLens applications that could basically revolutionize (or at the very least, radically augment *smile*) how remoting/teamwork/collaboration is currently being "accomplished" (for lack of a better word). I am sure with your remoting-centric (and clever) mindset you won't have much problem seeing them either (if you haven't already)!
MichaelD!
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 01:52:46 UTC
As a long time remote worker this is all painfully familiar. I've learned to expect the indignities but one thing that still gets me is that this lack of etiquette by office dwellers isn't just happening to internal people that are remote. If it's this bad between people they work with frequently, how bad do you think it looks for an external client that isn't in the office?
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 02:36:09 UTC
I worked for MSFT for 15 years from Texas, always got the question, so when are you moving to Redmond? My response, when you all report to me I will consider it. Seriously, I would worry if they stopped asking.
Todd
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 02:36:41 UTC
What about that loud clicky buzz that seems to happen every time someone has some poorly shielded mic or speaker wire and their phone has bluetooth or wireless enabled? It's like a buzzsaw to the ears. Also I have worked with remote-from-home coworkers who just have horrible Internet... and when you are on join.me, their voice breaks up as they begin moving the mouse around or redrawing their screen. With all of the money you save on gasoline, upgrade that 56k modem, or at least keep within 50 feet of your wifi. Better yet, cable into that modem or router and plant yourself at a desk instead of programming from your sofa. We deserve it.

I have been working remote for 8 years now, and I agree, it's all about respect. I am showing you respect by making sure you can communicate with me clearly, please reciprocate. And don't panic if there is a 5 minute lapse when you can't get ahold of me... developers need to poop too.
DanLudwig
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 03:16:24 UTC
Uggh. I so hear what you are saying. I agree that one of my biggest pet peeves is the "when is the next time you are coming in?" question. Yeah ... could you make it sound more like I am taking a break from my Atlantis, Bahamas suite to inconvenience myself enough to swing by the office to get a little work done. As if I don't already live behind the computer 9-12 hours at least every day, in an effort to prove I don't take the work-from-home thing for granted.

I think this takes second place only to my apparent non-existence that my remote situation has perpetuated. I have been having to smile and nod for the past 9 months, while having to listen as a fellow colleague receives the atta boy's for a system that I designed and built from scratch, from my home. Simply because his is the IT face that they know. It's not HIS fault but geezuz ... cut me some slack! I'm here!!

Ya' know what the irony of it is? I can't speak for others but I feel that when you work from home you are under pressure to perform and produce MORE in order to justify and maintain the "privilege" of working remotely (some have lost their jobs because they were being required to come into the office ... and since they lived 1500 miles away from the office it makes for a hell of a commute).
Gary
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 06:14:06 UTC
Just like out of my own life. I've made the deliberate decision a couple years back to split my time, 2 days in the office, 3 (or more to the reality 5) days from home. This allowed me to get pretty much best of both worlds. If I had to make the choice for either of them, it would be remote hands down though....
Hannes
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 06:34:21 UTC
Simple. As expressed on podcasts. Change your company and if that does not work change your company.
Ted
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 06:57:38 UTC
I'm working remotely as a freelance software developer for about 18 years now, and I love it. I don't need those remote meetings anyway and I never happened to attend one. Maybe it's different if you are managing people, but I don't. I love doing just technical work without all this communications overhead.

Synchronous communication is overrated anyway. What I do is chat, mail and some telephone calls. Some projects just have a kick-off meeting in person and one after finishing the task. If the client knows me already, there might be no meeting at all. And that's great. I can sometimes do a days work in an hour here at home. Source control and task tracking systems like TFS or Jira, if used extensively, can replace the need for meetings on software project to zero.
Kai
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 08:57:26 UTC
This all assumes functional Lync infrastructure. We can't use web cams because the audio will crap out....heck, the audio craps out if we're just using audio.
alex
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 10:08:28 UTC
Great article!

I've work for a company that didn't even have an office, everyone was remote and that was my best experience as a remote worker. Everyone face the same struggle/challenges of a remote worker but worked together to remove them.

Now, I'm back at a not 100% remote job, the challenges are back and I'm now an expert to set up meeting with remote worker...
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 10:19:42 UTC
Is that a DoubleRobotics telepresence robot in the photo with Damian?
Mark Rendle
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 10:51:05 UTC
Funny how people often already work distributed without realizing. When working from home for half a day or pushing some nightly/weekend commits, etc., they already work 'remote', albeit perhaps nearby.

Remote doesn't necessarily mean 'far away', it's just from another location (could be next door), and has an async nature to it, which makes it so important to replace as many 'offline' communications with an online counterpart (e.g. team chat rooms, online whiteboarding, etc).

The thing that I find annoying about working distributed, is the 'artificial lag' created by simply not responding to an email or question. Sometimes a simple "yep, got it, will look into it by end of week" and setting expectations is a no brainer, but being remote, you can't tell whether the recipient actually read it, or already planned folow-up. Then again, should get rid of email, but it still seems to be the only medium everyone looks at for sure, and one doesn't simply IM/call with a 9+ hours time zone difference.
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 10:54:19 UTC
Scott, on your next call, when things are winding up you should say, "Hey guys, I thing the cogent thing we need to consider is [clink!]".
Dave
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 11:10:33 UTC
I used to work from home and it worked great, because everyone else in the company did too.

Now, I work in an office, and there are others who work from home. When they're at home, their colleagues will come and ask questions, which should have been directed to them, to the wrong people. When they're told, 'X is working from home, you can ask them,' they adopt a blank look as if they don't understand.

I have worked from home when others are all in an office and it's exactly as you describe, Scott. People who have no empathy with or respect for their colleagues / subordinates, or no idea how to communicate with people, will disclose that in the way they deal with remote workers.
Rik Hemsley
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 11:30:19 UTC
Seems that you are the new Prof. Sheldon Cooper :-) //BTW I have watched the above Community StandUp.
You have pointed the exact pain of being a remote team member and doing important stuff but the guys who are at same place enjoy higher priority same as SHELL configurations priority for current session is higher than default config files!
Umesh
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 13:09:30 UTC
Well Scott , think again if it is really your will to be remote worker or the will of your wife(or your kids ) ? I personally think remote working is only good for 2 weeks , more than two weeks I get depressed and feel I am jobless even if I have a job .
Sam
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 13:21:38 UTC
I was once asked if I wanted to do remote working, and they attached two caveats -

1. I had to work additional hours, to make up for not having to commute. The additional hours was to be determined by the average of the rest of the offices commute time.

2. I had to wear a suit during my working hours. At home. Not taking video calls from clients or suppliers.

Yeah, turned that one down.
Richard Price
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 13:50:35 UTC
This is an excellent article; I have experienced them all but not too often. I have been working remote now for almost 3 years, and seldom actually go to the office (it's a minimum 2 hour drive to the airport and 1,000 KM west of my house). Each year has been less and less, and down to maybe twice a year now. Video is key to it all I find, for maintaining that face to face experience. I have a desk at the office, but in an open area shared by many team members, and so I placed a desktop with web cam there and call in for 8+ hours a day, every weekday. I also have cameras in our meeting rooms, but wasn't able to set them up in the hallways :( So even though I am only "there" twice a year, I see the entire team all day, and seldom miss out on any ad-hoc meetings, banter and all the other conversations where the real design and product decisions are made.

The company I consult with, NeoStream Technologies, has been really great in helping the experience, and we do a daily huddle where everyone gets together and this helps keep in touch with some people I would otherwise seldom see, but for the most part most people swing by my desk space and talk to me like I am really there.

I live in the country using a radio internet connection so internet isn't the fastest (4MB down, 1/2 MB up on a good day), but for the most part, Lync works fine (my upstream connection can get a bit laggy at times though). We just recently got the internal Lync server able to talk to Office 365 Lync accounts and I can make direct calls to my remote Lync account, and so I am going to try AutoAnswering since that is really annoying to manage otherwise.

I do agree that co-workers shouldn't "have to" accommodate my remote situation, but etiquette applies like anywhere; they are as much remote to me as I am to them.
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 13:58:34 UTC
I appreciate your frustrations, Scott, but at the same time I think some of them are a little unfair. You're getting an extra benefit (working from home, much more flexible work schedule) that none of those people in the office are getting. It's unfair for you to complain when they don't go out of their way to be more accommodating for you. You're not working from home because of a disability; you're doing it by choice.

It's on you to go the extra mile to make the situation work, not on them. You shouldn't have the expectation that they'll meet you halfway, because they didn't sign up for the extra burden of coordinating with a remote worker- you're forcing it on them.

This is not to say that I don't think remote work is valuable or that it can be very productive. I just don't think anyone doing remote work should be indignant when other employees don't go out of their way to accommodate them.
Sam
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 14:57:18 UTC
The problem is everyone at your company hasn't realized that everyone is remote and the culture hasn't changed to adjust to that. At Quicken Loans we have lots of remotes, myself included, and we've come to realize over the years that EVERYONE is remote. Every meeting request that goes out has a conference line attached to it. Someone even wrote a plugin for Outlook that reminds those creating meetings there are remotes on the meeting request and to include a conference. Even for a 9:00 meeting someone that isn't remote may be stuck in traffic. Or they are on the way to a dentist appointment or doctor appointment.

We've had remote team members (notice I didn't use the word *worker*, it so cheapens what we do) for many many years and while not perfect I don't have near the frustrations you do but I think that is because our company and culture has realized that everyone is remote. Thus we adjust and we move on. It seems like you are still *fighting the man* there and not making strides.

You either change where you work. Or you change where you work.

Cheers.

-Keith
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 15:00:12 UTC
I don't work remotely regularly (I'm working on changing that), but I do it from time to time and the effects are interesting.

Because I'm not a regular remote worker, people forget that I'm working at all. It's great for me because I can really focus on one task without interruptions, but everyone else just waits for me to come back to work and instead of coming back all caught up because I've shielded myself from a lot of the random distractions, I just come back to two days' worth of distractions.

The weirdest thing for me is that as I've slowly increased the frequency of remote days, people have taken to assuming that any time my office door is closed, I've obviously gone home. Lights are on and visible through a window; you can hear me talking via speaker phone or hear music playing; we have a face-to-face in 20 minutes, but no, I've obviously decided to go home.

As for the comments asking why both sides should have a camera, I've noticed that when there's nothing to root both sides in the meeting, one or both sides ends up doing other things (dishes, reading email, what-have-you) and therefore they aren't absorbing the actual content of the meeting. That presence isn't just a social nicety, it's a place of focus. Just my $0.02.
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 15:48:54 UTC
I think one major improvement that Skype and other remote conferencing software should all have is initial and continuous audio signal monitoring.

1) When you first join the conference, you are asked to say a few words and the audio is immediately played back to you so you can see how good or lousy you sound to others.

2) Periodic audio monitoring that checks every 5 seconds for:

- Signal dropouts. A lot of people call into remote conferences from cell phones and have no idea how bad their audio is.

- Volume dropouts. A lot of people have crappy headsets where the mic boom tends to swivel downward until you are straining badly to make them out.

- Background noise levels. A lot of people do other tasks while they talk on a conference and don't realize how hard it is to hear them over the things they or other family members are doing in the background.

When a problem is detected the conferencing client plays a short 3 second snippet of audio back to the speaker that is having audio problems so they can correct it.

The worst part of this is the people having the audio problems sometimes believe you are pointing out their audio problems as some form of passive aggression when all that is happening is that you really can't hear what they are saying.
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 16:14:40 UTC
We can't seem to connect two remote works on a Lync audio/video call whatsoever. It just fails. Anyone have the same issue? One on site and one remote worker is just fine.
sam
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 16:42:11 UTC
I've been remote most of my 15 year career. First because clients were remote, then because I was contracting, then because the drive to the startup was 45 minutes each way and I could spend that time working, and finally because I was hired (from Phoenix) to work in San Francisco (I go in about half time).

I have absolutely no problem working remotely as some have mentioned. In fact, I work too much because I'm "always at the office." That said, I have a home office with a giant monitor, standing/sitting desk with treadmill. I go in TO my office to work every morning.

With the huge number of ways to communicate today, it's amazing to me that people can be befuddled by remote workers. Do we not work in the technology business? Can we not creatively use that technology? :)

Just this week I experienced a meeting where 4 of the 8 attendees were remote. First there was no GTM or Hangouts for us. Then they added one. Somehow though, the "in office" workers ended up in a meeting room where there was no phone so that they could also dial in. So we were stuck trying to hear through someone's computer (which meant, one person could be heard, the others were like tiny mice and we hadn't a clue what they were saying). It's not always this bad — this was a particularly frustrating one.

There's a big scrum/alignment meeting every day. It's in a large common space with a phone dialed in, but it's nearly impossible to hear most of the people reporting in when I'm not sitting there (heck, it's hard when I am sitting there). In such cases, using something like CrowdMics to broadcast voices in the room more loudly would be great and might solve the lack of being able to hear (http://www.crowdmics.com).

I've heard of some places actually setting up an old computer with a camera pointed at the workspace in the office so that the remote folks can be included in impromptu things going on. I would love that. But barring that, dialing me up on Hangouts when you and another person start having a spontaneous chat that I should be involved in is pretty simple. And chances are 95% that I'm sitting right here. You just can't see me.
Stephanie Rewis
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 16:43:53 UTC
Maybe I'm just too damn anti-social, but in large meetings I usually wonder why the full time remote people turned their cameras on. For one on one meetings when I work remotely, I'll turn my camera on (after ensuring I'm properly dressed).

If someone actually bought me a webcam, I'd set it up and use it. Honestly, it sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable. Like, what value is looking at my face adding over my voice?
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 16:53:58 UTC
Have you tried the new Surface Hub yet? What are your thoughts on it?
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 16:57:56 UTC
Scott,

I did remote work for several years, and now I am on the other end of it. I have 15 developers that I manage with 4 of them being remote guys. They can work any Friday remote if they choose to do so as well. So while I do know what its like and I sympathize it's also much more difficult to manage remote workers. If I had to quantify it, I would say its nearly twice as difficult to keep them in the loop, exchange information, do peer reviews, etc. For instance, when the remote developers have a problem I can't just walk over to their cube and sit down and show them how it works. I have to setup an elaborate screen share that will hopefully work correctly over crappy corporate LAN and over there crappy home internet. Or try to blindly walk them through it over phone. During stand-ups we have to conference them in every morning. When they get stuck on something I often feel like they spin their wheels for longer and more often than someone who was in the office, mainly because I would know they were stuck if they sat within proximity.

Speaking of proximity, there have been studies that have shown the closer developers sit in proximity the more productive they are since they can share information easier and quicker. I feel like this is completely lost for remote developers as well.

At this point, in order for me to hire a remote person I would need a rather compelling argument vs. someone who would be on-site. It's not that I dislike working with remote workers, or don't trust them, its just that it adds unnecessary administrative overhead that would otherwise not be needed.

That's my experience at least...
Eric Malamisura
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 18:43:58 UTC
I worked 3 months remotely and then I stopped and looked for a job where I live. It is extremely hard even though my manager and my team were great but I always felt left behind, the last one to know important information and let's not get to the promotion conversations. Any way, nice article and good luck!
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 19:02:21 UTC
For the folks saying these remote expectations are unfair to local workers: Just what is unfair about it?

Consider this: Individual "remote" workers are distant from "local" workers in terms of space, but often active in the same time span. For many companies, entire teams that need to collaborate are "remote" from each other in both geography and timezones.

But, inevitably, everyone is going to need to be in sync with things that happened in a different time & space than they happen to be at now. That includes even you with your earlier self - you can't always rely on your memory. The "remote" workers are just the canaries in the coal mines.

In other words, all the things that need doing to keep "remote" workers in the loop also happen to be well aligned with things that support scalable institutional memory & cognition. Email, collaborative notes & documentation, recorded meetings, group chats, etc - all of this stuff helps on many fronts.

If you think working remote is some kind of special benefit that the remote workers have to compensate for - then you're failing yourself, your team, and your company. Everyone is remote, at some point.

And maybe you should give working from home a try. It's not a vacation. Sometimes it's a productivity boost, which is a definite benefit to the team. Sometimes it's longer hours than if you'd gone into the office.
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 20:17:55 UTC
And don't you find it's the same people who struggle with remote collaboration tools all the time? While the rest of us figure out how to change mics and sound output devices in every tool and (eventually) how to operate WebEx, it's the same handful of people who NEVER get their heads around this. As you said, it's probably a matter of caring or not.
James
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 21:44:25 UTC
Strange approach with the webcam. When you order pizza you have to turn the webcam on (it's business after all)? No? So what do you need a person face for? What if this person is handicapped and don't want to show a face?

I am remote worker and I didn't have such experience as you. The only thing that puzzles me in current world is IT companies hiring folks requiring knowledge of cloud, machine learning, big data, text processing, tons of frameworks, and they make cutting edge technology. "-- Is remote work possible? -- No."

Riiight, cutting edge. A company that is supposed to be an IT cannot handle remote workers, because we can transfer information all over the world, but somehow the code has to be written on site. Probably the bits gain additional "1"s ;-).
macias
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 23:22:07 UTC
You had me right up to the webcam bit. I don't care that you don't care that I don't like to use my webcam. In the vast majority of cases, I get in there and turn that thing off ASAP. And having been doing web conferencing several times a week for over ten years (oh yeah, Macromedia Breeze!) I can count on one hand the times I've found seeing someone else via webcam to be useful.
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 23:46:48 UTC
I've been working remotely for about 8 years. Everything you mention here, has unfortunately happened to me. On a rather daily basis in some cases.

I think another thing I would add here is the (in)sensitivity to timezones. I'm in PST, our HQ is in CST, a large part of our team is on EST, and often work with offshore teams in India (IST). Concessions need to be made, and I don't mind too much being available in odd hours. It can get frustrating at times though.

Often times the guys that go into office check-out (offline completely) after 5PM hits. I honestly enjoy that time of day. It's the only time I can get real work done.
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 19:25:27 UTC
My main problem as a remote developer is the fact that I actually work to much. Don't get me wrong, I love it! Finally, after all the years with useless distractions, I can see my real production abilities! It only becomes a problem when I am stack in a meeting with people procrastinating all the time. I don't care what you did last weekend, or what food you like.. Just get to the point and let me continue having the awesome results I have when you actually talk about work!!
T.
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 20:33:19 UTC
If remote working isn't working for you, maybe you're on the wrong team, working for the wrong company or in the wrong industry...
Marty T
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 21:19:23 UTC
I've done 'em both, and I'd go back to either one. There's so much win to go around at a company who does remote even halfway right, and sometimes geography works against a company trying to hire on-site; who wants to take that job in the polar vortex when they're set up in South Florida?
John Dunagan
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 23:12:10 UTC
The best advice for balancing remote workers that I've recently come across is to apply the advice StackExchange has - I've blogged about this recently. Well worth a try. If one worker is remote, then the whole team embraces remote work practices. See their initial post on the subject for more info.
Thursday, 19 March 2015 05:16:37 UTC
I thought your article was thoughtful and I've experienced many of these things. I run a co-working space in Eugene and it's all micro-businesses, freelancers and remote workers. I'm really shocked at some of the negative comments. Implying that you are spoiled or that that remote workers are lazy. It's 2015 folks. You spend most of your time on the internet and it should not matter if you are 2 feet or 2000 miles a way. If you are making decisions and not writing them down, relying on memory of verbal communications all I have to say is "you're doing it wrong". I've worked with all types in my travels including the people who "don't do email" believe it or not. Learning to embrace new and interesting way to communicate is part of the fun. looping back to the title of your post: I have a 3:30 daily scrum online. I show up every day. I'm lucky if there is another person on the call. I'm usually the only one there.
Thursday, 19 March 2015 07:45:13 UTC
Many of these problems aren't about remote workers, but distributed workplaces.

We have 2 main offices.Sydney + Brisbane. TCs and VCs are a regular thing, and depending on the mix the experience varies. I've been guilty of continuing a meeting after hanging up. And then there's the absence of an enforced unifying platform... Hangouts/lync/etc.

It can be hard, but at least posts like these highlight the problems, and improve awareness..
Thursday, 19 March 2015 13:32:45 UTC
Spot on for remote or distributed workers, but I'd like to clarify a misconception in some of the comments I've seen. Being a remote worker is not always a choice. I work for an IT services company where 90% of our staff is 'remote' and I support a large customer's enterprise coordinating operations, incidents, and projects with our teams that span the globe. Service Desk agents in Manila or Kuala Lumpur, network engineers in Mumbai, DBA's in Munich, server admins in Chicago, and Project Managers in Brazil mean working from my home office is not a novelty because in reality none of us are ever going to be in the same geographical location... ever. The notion that working remote is a luxury or choice is as antiquated as using a phone just to make calls. From my informal polling, the majority of our staff still get up and come 'home' at the same time but are actually productive instead of sitting in a commute. We average more time on the job being productive and have a greater tendency to become workaholics because the job is always close by when we have a few free moments.
While my definition of 'business casual' is a lot more casual than others at times and I can step from being a manager to being a Dad in a few seconds, it should not be cause for a negative view of my job or performance because I'm a professional that keeps my personal life separate from my job and still try to excel at both everyday. Those that still go into an office (and sometimes I wish I did too) have a reason to be there rather than working remote, and we understand that, but you have to realize that if they don't embrace the new way of working and accommodate a geographically agnostic attitude, they risk being left behind in other things.
Glenn Deans
Thursday, 19 March 2015 21:42:27 UTC
I think in general people don't consider these types of things. You could be a group of 100 people in a remote office during a company "all hands" meeting and all those things could be ignored as well. With remote offices, working together is simply not a thing that many people take the time to do well. Things like having decent speaker phones and microphones aren't always a given, let alone web cams and testing your web presentation software before the presentation. Assuming all that was great, another big challenge (which is probably just process related) is just knowing what each group is doing and if its own track or being done the "right" way. It seems easy to use terms like us and them and blame each other rather than using all the amazing tech we have to actually communicate quickly, easily, and frequently. Good article. I hope you can help educated people and companies about effective communication.

Adam Wright
Friday, 20 March 2015 00:24:15 UTC
Scott - I assume you just meant the style of your post to be catchy but it comes off as somewhat biting and aggressive towards your peers at Microsoft. If I were them I would be disappointed in the article and perhaps a bit offended. Remember that YOU are the one who is asking for special consideration here. Remote working is not a special need. I am sure the disabled readers won't appreciate your comparison. Remote work is a choice not a special "need". Your article is essentially saying, "come on people, why can't you make it easier for ME?" Why should they? Is spending another chunk of their mindshare thinking about Scott during a meeting really something that makes sense? You are asking many people to accommodate YOU. Have you considered that it's not fair of you to impose the inconvenience of your remote work situation on THEM? Finally if you were surprised that people didn't receive your gift wrap cameras with enthusiasm and glee I think you should rethink that one - perhaps you convinced yourself that they were receiving a gift, but no, they were receiving a message that said "I need you to bend for me."
Emilio
Saturday, 21 March 2015 14:21:33 UTC
There have been some Points made in the article and the comments on which I'd like to chime in without discussing the Topic at large, like Scott did:

1) "It's 2015 and everyone is a remote worker"

I strongly disagree. My understand is well summed up in [1] by Alistair Cockburn. If you can, please read chapter 3 of his book (communication, cooperating Teams). Remote working deprives a team of many communication modes and opportunities. Not just because remote communication is very much less rich than face-to-face (and web cams etc. don't nearly make up for it according to Alistair). Additionally, many communication opportunities don't present themselves to the remote worker (on the hallway, at the coffee machine, chiming in when you hear someone discuss a Topic).

All of this is not a shortcoming of the person working abroad. Nevertheless, as a team lead I'd prefer a 4 person local team to a 6 person distributed team any day. If your company makes distributed teams the default, I think it's worth considering if the tradeoff is actually improving things for them. The answer may be different depending on company size and many other factors.

2) "Commitment of the remote worker vs. commitment of the local worker"

Remote workers usually point out they are working longer hours. However, they often don't account for the hours local workers spent travelling to/from work. Or the hours they spent moving to the place where their new Job is. These actions are actively contributing to their work and should be understood as an act of dedication to their work.

[1] Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game (Second Edition), Alistair Cockburn
Michael B.
Sunday, 22 March 2015 09:00:38 UTC
This is all - like the french say "N'importe quoi".

It's people being wrong not the way of life? Seriously? Sad world.
Tin Drub
Monday, 23 March 2015 11:15:07 UTC
I've been a remote worker for nearly 7 years now.
I'll be honest while I understand all of the above point you mention, I can't say that I've been as affected by them, and here's why I think that is. The company I work for started out life remotely and it's only with the growth in recent years that people have started flocking to the new offices that have sprung up, so I think remote workers are built into our work ethos from the outset.

If I could have one minor annoyance is that I do miss out on all those coffee break chats, I'm sure if I schedule a coffee break meeting on Lync I'll be the only one on the call..
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 03:28:40 UTC
you are right this is a real rant : )

i guess these are natural team reactions to any remote worker (unless all of them are on the same playing field). i guess it comes down to how others finding the arrangement. if they don't like something or the person they will find a way to slow things down.


Luffy
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 12:26:23 UTC
As I'm also a remote worker I have one more:

Driving to an important meeting early in the morning to attend in person and realize after 200 km of Autobahn that a meeting cancelation came in.

Priceless!
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 13:12:56 UTC
A favourite of mine when working remotely, and routinely on voice calls with no video:

DO NOT NOD AT THE CONFERENCE PHONE WHEN I ASK A QUESTION

Having had to remind a room full of people that I was unable to see them on a number of occasions, this one is a bit frustrating.
Paddy
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 15:01:10 UTC
I'm not a 100% remote worker, but I usually telecommute one day a week depending on my meeting schedule. Most of the time, I can attend meetings via Google Hangout, but if I'm meeting with colleagues from outside of my department, I usually come into the office since a lot of those folks are either unfamiliar with setting up video conferencing or are not used to meeting any other way but face-to-face.

It seems like companies need to make working with remote workers part of the company culture. This really means giving employees the training to bring remote workers into live meetings without relying on IT support, as well as purchasing computers with built-in webcams and pre-installed with conferencing software.
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 15:03:03 UTC
Scott,

It seems you're not responding to these comments, but I'm giving it a chance...

Where can I find the list of jobs at Microsoft which are open for a remote employment? I'm especially interested in C++ related positions.

Thanks!
exim
Tuesday, 31 March 2015 04:28:08 UTC
Scott, I know what you are talking about since I have been a remote worker for 13 years this summer. The last 7 years have been for a company where everybody works remotely.

Watch this - it will explain everything.
https://youtu.be/z_tiqlBFjbk
Brian K
Tuesday, 31 March 2015 15:40:11 UTC
Great post Scott. I'm part of the Remote Workers Union and I feel your pain. Please add an item related to the Mic/audio quality when using the speaker in large (echoed) rooms. Guys, you are not at the batcave, so please pick up the phone or come to speak closer to the phone base. I'm not Charlie and you are not Angels.
Thursday, 23 April 2015 19:10:52 UTC
I constantly struggle with communicating with my team as a remote employee and just had this exact thing happen to me. I am on a pretty small team (15 people with a couple remotes) so getting forgotten about for a meeting can be hard to comprehend at times.

I do see it from their perspective and try to not get too upset about it but it is frustrating. The company I work for hired me as a remote worker, the team interviewed me and knew I would be remote. I am holding up my side of the agreement to be always online and available and expect them to make some effort to do the same.

We use good tools like Sococo, Lync and Skype but people in the office just forget to do simple things like having headsets or to sign in to Sococo.
Chris Morgan
Wednesday, 13 May 2015 04:25:43 UTC
Great post Scott. I've been trying to get folks to use their webcams this year and it is not easy. I find it helps people focus on the meeting and the task at hand, and also makes for a more personal connection. I'm not sure what the hangup exactly is. If we were meeting at the office or at a client site I'd see you anyway.

Where I've really run into issues (sadly) are with client calls, typically led by one of my colleagues stationed at the client site. I could count on one hand the number of clients that have conference rooms with video capabilities or even multiple microphones at the table. I'm left constantly wondering who among the 6 or 8 people in the room is speaking, and often have to ask people to repeat comments and questions.

I don't see your requests as any kind of real burden to accommodate. The things you're asking for simply add up to better communication and greater productivity.
Chris K
Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.